History

Today, U.S. News & World Report ranks the U-M Medical School among top medical schools in the United States. This short overview of our history shows innovation was in our blood.

Early Innovation in Medical School Teaching

UMMS signage

The University of Michigan Medical School was the first medical school in the United States to own and operate its own hospital, among the first major medical schools to admit women and the first major medical school to teach science-based medicine. We also introduced the modern medical curriculum and the first clinical clerkships. In 2000, the University of Michigan Medical School celebrated 150 years of educating some of the best and brightest minds in medicine. More than 19,000 alumni have graduated and thousands more have held residencies and fellowships here.

The University of Michigan Medical School opened its doors in 1850 and became U-M’s first professional school. The first class of medical students paid $5 a year for two years of education. In keeping with the times, none of the members in the first class was a college graduate. Instead, to gain admission, medical students had to know some Greek and enough Latin to read and write prescriptions. The curriculum consisted of lectures, and the second year was a repeat of the first.

Madelon Stockwell

The first woman graduate, Amanda Sanford, received her U-M Medical School degree in 1871. Two years later, W. Henry Fitzbutler – the son of a slave – became the first African American to graduate from U-M Medical School.

By the late 1870s, the U-M Medical School increased its academic term from six months to nine months. In 1880, the U-M Medical School adopted a three-year curriculum, introduced laboratory instruction and assigned formal grades.

medical school instructors

In the late nineteenth century, the U-M Medical School embarked on a mission to involve students as active participants in their education, rather than passive observers. It also taught students how to acquire and interpret information. Both teaching approaches were radical for the time.

In 1899, the U-M Medical School successfully introduced the concept of the clinical clerkship. Because U-M owned our own hospital, we could set up such clerkships directly at our hospital. Other medical schools had previously tried to incorporate such clerkships into their curriculum, but privately owned hospitals would not allow medical students to touch their patients.

Michigan Improves Medical Curricula

medical amphitheatre

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the U-M Medical School led efforts to revise and improve medical curricula by doubling the length of the program for the M.D. degree and by integrating clinical rotations into every student's course of study.

In the 1950s through the 1960s, we made sweeping changes to our medical curriculum. For example, we made sure that students had early clinical contact with patients, and we introduced an interdepartmental course in the neurosciences.

medical school laboratory

The late 1960s was an era of increased clinical training in the first two predominantly basic science years of medical school. The U-M, along with many medical schools across the country, adopted an interdepartmental Introduction to Clinical Medicine course that would remain a staple of the first two years. We also introduced senior year subinternships, which are still part of the advanced clinical curriculum.

Consistently Ranks Among Top Medical Schools in U.S.

The U-M Medical School continues its long tradition of excellence with a diverse and outstanding student body, world-renowned basic science and clinical faculty, a completely revised curriculum for the M.D. degree, and exceptional facilities for patient care, education and research.

medical school laboratory

The U-M Medical School consistently ranks in the top of all medical schools in the country. It also ranks near the top among all medical schools in terms of National Institutes of Health research awards. And the Medical School is in good company. U-M’s College of Engineering, Law School, School of Business Administration, School of Dentistry, College of Pharmacy, School of Nursing, School of Public Health and School of Social Work all rank in the top ten nationally.

Michigan Medical Alumni Number 19,000 Strong

medical students group

Each year, approximately 700 medical students at the University of Michigan work toward their M.D. degree. U-M Medical School has more than 9,000 graduates and 9,000 M.D.s and M.D./Ph.D.s who completed their residencies and/or fellowships at Michigan. Visit our award-winning alumni magazine, Medicine at Michigan. And our medical alumni Web site.

Read more about it

Not Just Any Medical School: The Science, Practice, and Teaching of Medicine at the University of Michigan, 1850-1941, by Horace W. Davenport, M.D., is available from the University of Michigan Press.

More history

For more information about the people, research and departments that have helped to shape medicine at Michigan, visit our Newsroom.